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´╗┐Title: As Long As You Wish
Author: O'Keefe, John
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "As Long As You Wish" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcriber's Note: This e-text was produced from Astounding Science
Fiction, June, 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.



AS LONG AS YOU WISH

_If, somehow, you get trapped in a circular time system ... how
long is the circumference of an infinitely retraced circle?_


By JOHN O'KEEFE

Illustrated by van Dongen


The patient sat stiffly in the leather chair on the other side of the
desk. Nervously he pressed a coin into the palm of one hand.

"Just start anywhere," I said, "and tell me all about it."

"As before?" Without waiting for an answer, he continued, the coin
clutched tightly in one hand. "I'm Charles J. Fisher, professor of
Philosophy at Reiser College."

He looked at me quickly. "Or at least I was until recently." For a
second his face was boyish. "Professor of Philosophy, that is."

I smiled and found that I was staring at the coin in his hand. He gave
it to me. On one side I read the words: THE STATEMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE
OF THIS COIN IS FALSE. The patient watched me with an expressionless
face; I turned over the coin. It was engraved with the words: THE
STATEMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS COIN IS FALSE.

"That's not the problem," he said, "not _my_ problem. I had the coin
made when I was an undergraduate. I enjoyed reading one side, turning
it over, reading the other side, and so on. A fiendish enjoyment like
boys planning where to put the tipped-over outhouse."

I looked at the patient. He was thirty-eight, single, medium build, had
an M.A. and Ph.D. from an eastern university. I knew this and more from
the folder on my desk.

"Eight months ago," he continued, "I read about the sphere found on
Paney Island." He stopped, looking at me questioningly.

"Yes, I know," I said. I opened my desk drawer, took out a clipping
from the newspaper, and handed it to him.

"That's it."

I read the clipping before putting it back in the drawer.

    Manila, Sept. 24 (INS) Archeologists from University of California
    have discovered in earth fault of recent quake a sphere two feet in
    diameter of an unidentifiable material.

    Dr. Karl Schwartz, head of the group, said the sphere was returned
    to the University for study. He declined to answer questions on the
    cultural origin of the sphere.

"There wasn't any more in the newspapers about it," he said. "I have a
friend in California who got me the photographs."

_He looked at me intently. "You won't believe any of this." He pressed
the coin into the palm of his hand. "You won't be able to."_

"The photographs," he continued, as if lecturing, "were of characters
projected by the sphere when placed before a focused light. The sphere
was transparent, you see, imbedded with dark microscopic specks. By
moving the sphere a certain distance each time, there was a total
projection of three hundred and sixty different characters in eighteen
different orderings. Or nineteen different orderings if you count one
which was a list of all the characters."

I made a mental note of the numbers. I felt they were significant.

"As I said," he continued, "I obtained the photographs of the
characters. Very strange shapes, totally unlike the characters of
Oriental languages, but yet that is the closest way to describe them."
He jerked forward in his chair, "Except, of course, ostensively."

"Later," I said. I wanted to get through the preliminaries first. There
would be time later to see the photographs.

                     *      *      *      *      *

"The characters projected by the sphere," he said, "weren't like the
characters of any known language." He paused dramatically. "There was
reason to believe they had origin in an unknown culture. A culture more
scientifically advanced than our own."

"And the reasons for this supposition?" I asked.

"The material ... the material of the sphere. It could only be roughly
classified as _ferro-plastic_. Totally unknown, amazing imperviousness.
A synthetic material, hardly the product of a former culture."

"From Mars?" I said, smiling.

"There were all kinds of conjectures, but, of course, the important
thing was to see if the projection of characters was a message. The
message, if any, would mean more than any conjecture."

"You translated it?"

_He polished the coin on his jacket. "You won't dare believe it," he
said sharply._

He cleared his throat and stiffened into a more rigid posture. "It
wasn't exactly translation. You see, _to us_ none of the characters had
designation. They were just characters."

"So it was a problem of decoding?" I asked.

"As it turned out, no. Decoding is dependent on knowledge of language
characteristics--characteristics of known languages. Decoding was
tried, but without success. No, what we had to find was a key to the
language."

"You mean like the Rune Stone?"

"More or less. In principle, we needed a picture of a cow, and a sign
of meaning indicating one of the characters.

"For me, there was no possibility of finding similarities between the
characters and characters of other languages--that would require
tremendous linguistic knowledge and library facilities. Nor could I use
a decoding approach--that would require special knowledge of techniques
and access to electronic computers and other mechanical aids. No, I had
to work on the assumption that the key to the sphere was implicit in
the sphere."

"You hoped to find the key to the language in the language itself?"

"Exactly. You know, of course, some languages do have an implicit key?
For example hieroglyphics or picture language. The word for _cow_ is a
picture of a cow."

_He looked at the toes of his shoes. "You won't be able to believe it.
It's impossible to believe. I use the word impossible in its logical
sense._

"In most languages," he continued, looking up from his shoes, "the
sound of some words themselves indicates the meaning of the word.
Onomatopoetic words like _bowwow, buzz_."

"And the key to the unknown language?" I asked. "How did you find it?"

                     *      *      *      *      *

I watched him push the coin against the back of his arm, then lift it
to read the backward letters pressed into his skin. He looked up at me
and smiled.

"I built models of the characters. Big material ones, exactly
proportionate to the ones projected. Then--quite by accident--I viewed
one of them through a glass globe the size of the original sphere. What
do you think I saw?"

"What?" I noticed he had the boyish look again.

"A distortion of the model. But that's not what's important. The
distortions, on study, gave specific visual entities. Like when looking
at one of those trick pictures and suddenly seeing the lion in the
grass. The lines outlining the lion are there all the time, only the
observer has to view them as the outline of a lion. It was the same
with the models of the characters, except the shapes that appeared were
not of lions or other recognizable things. But they did suggest."

_He pressed the coin against his forehead, closed his eyes and appeared
to be thinking deeply. "Yes, impossible to believe. No one can believe
it."_

"In addition to the visual response, the distortions gave me definite
feelings. Not mixtures of feelings, but one definite emotional
experience."

"How do you mean?"

"One character when viewed through the globe gave me a visual image
and, at the same time, a strong feeling of light hilarity."

"I take it then that these distortions seemed to connote meanings,
rather than denote them. You might say that their meaning was conveyed
through a Gestalt experience on the part of the observer."

"Yes, each character gave a definite Gestalt. But, the Gestalt was the
same for each observer. Or at least for thirty-five observers there was
an eighty per cent correlation."

I whistled softly. "And the translation?"

"Doctor, what would you say if I told you the translation was
unbelievable; that it couldn't be seriously entertained by any man?
What if I said that it would take the sanity of any man who believed
it?"

"I would say that it might well be incorrect."

He took some papers from his pocket and laughed excitedly, slumping
down in the chair. "This is the complete translation in idiomatic
English. I'm going to let you read it, but first I want you to consider
a few things."

He hid the papers behind the back of his chair; his face became even
more boyish, almost as if he were deciding on where to put the tipped
over outhouse.

"Consider first, doctor, that there was a total projection of three
hundred and sixty different characters. The same number as the number
of degrees in a circle. Consider also that there were eighteen
different orderings of the characters, or nineteen counting the
alphabetical list. The square root of three hundred and sixty would lie
between eighteen and nineteen."

"Yes," I said. I remembered there was something significant about the
numbers, but I wasn't at all sure that it was this.

"Consider also," he continued, "that the communication was through the
medium of a sphere. Moreover, keep in mind that physics accepts the
path of a beam of light as its definition of a straight line. Yet, the
path is a curve; if extended sufficiently it would be a circle, the
section of a sphere."

"All right," I said. By now the patient was pounding the coin against
the sole of one shoe.

"And," he said, "keep in mind that in some sense time can be thought of
as another dimension." He suddenly thrust the papers at me and sat back
in the chair.

I picked up the translation and began reading. The patient sat stiffly
in the leather chair on the other side of the desk. Nervously he
pressed a coin into the palm of one hand.

"Just start anywhere," I said, "and tell me all about it."

"As before?" Without waiting for an answer, he continued, the coin
clutched tightly in one hand. "I'm Charles J. Fisher, professor of
philosophy at Reiser College."

He looked at me quickly. "Or at least I was until recently." For a
second his face was boyish. "Professor of philosophy, that is."

I smiled and found that I was staring at the coin in his hand. He gave
it to me. On one side I read the words: THE STATEMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE
OF THIS COIN IS FALSE. The patient watched....


THE END





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